There are stories that may be told aloud, and stories that must be told in whispers, and there are stories that are never told at all.
I received this ARC ages ago, and kind of forgot about it. I know I am terrible, especially as Diane Setterfield is an author I deeply admire! So thank you Netgalley and Atria for an advance copy in exchange for a review. Don’t worry, I also bought the audiobook!
Once Upon a River
by Diane Setterfield
Published: December 2018
Read: April 2019
Format: ebook ARC and audiobook
Genre: Gothic, historic fiction, magical realism
Number of Pages: 464 Pages
Rating: 3.5/5 Moose
In a small town on the Thames, there sits a bar known for the best stories. The owner’s husband tells the best, and everyone in town goes to the bar to hear and tell their own stories. One night, an injured man carrying a drown child stumbles into the bar. Hours later, the girl stirs back awake. She doesn’t speak, and no one can figure out who she belongs to, though so many want to claim her.
Rants, Raves, and Thoughts
Like so many others who picked up this book, The Thirteenth Tale is a very important and beloved book of mine. Diane Setterfield can build an atmospheric book better than any other author I’ve read. This book feels like the winter cold biting at my skin, then leaning into a warm blanket in front of a fire. And the book doesn’t just take place in the winter, but instead takes place over a year.
This book is slow paced through the entire book. There is never really a moment that feels like it is picking up speed, never a moment of sitting on the edge of my seat and diving into the action. Instead, it’s a snowy night gently falling as you curl up for a good night in. If you cannot figure it out — this book is not for most people. If you want something action packed and adventurous, then this isn’t for you. But if you want a book that is layers upon layers of characters’ stories, showing how all the characters are interlaced as they try to figure out what to do with this lost girl who never speaks.
I am not usually big on magical realism — I am trying to love it more — and this book is such a good example of the genre. Is it magic? Can it be explained by science? Some of the characters try to explain it away, but sometimes you can’t explain away a pig that can tell fortunes. But it doesn’t matter, because you shouldn’t take away stories from people and try to disprove them. These stories are the most important currency, and a way that any of these characters survive.
This book is incredibly hard to explain or recommend. It is incredibly hard to review, even. I will say that my biggest regret is that I didn’t read during the winter. I can see curling up with the book and napping while reading it. If you love magical realism, give this book a shot. If you like fairy tales mixed in with your realistic fiction, but always feel like it’s a little too out there, give this book a try.